Pharmacist censured for supplying drugs used by Shipman case

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A pharmacist who allowed herself to be so charmed by the GP Harold Shipman that she lost all professional objectivity was severely censured yesterday for handing him the drugs he used to kill scores of patients.

Ghislaine Brant, who still dispenses drugs from the pharmacy next door to Shipman's former practice in Hyde, Greater Manchester, was "chatted up" by the serial killer, said Dame Janet Smith, the chair of the Shipman inquiry.

Mrs Brant, a former Boots trainee, was so taken with Shipman that she unquestioningly allowed him to take regular quantities of diamorphine, the drug he injected into his victims, the inquiry found. Shipman, who was convicted of 15 murders in January 2000 and is suspected of at least 245 in all, was found dead in his prison cell six months ago.

Dame Janet was particularly alarmed at Mrs Brant's willingness to accept Shipman's requests for 14 30mg ampoules of the drug - enough to kill 24 people - during a seven month period in 1993. The 30mg quantities were too large to treat the pain of a heart attack (the use Shipman claimed he was putting them to) yet too small to treat a cancer patient.

The 14 prescriptions, which were signed for in the name of patients who either did not have cancer or who were dead, were added to a stockpile which gave Shipman the means to kill.

Mrs Brant told the inquiry that the 30mg quantities had not made her suspicious because Shipman's first request had been for 5mg (the appropriate amount for a heart attack patient) and she had supplied him with 30mg because she had no small ampoules. Thereafter, he had prescribed 30mg ampoules. Dame Janet rejected this aspect of her testimony. "I found that Shipman had prescribed 30mg ampoules from the start," she said.

Mrs Brant had no notion of Shipman's crimes and it was simply her "misfortune" that, within 12 months of her starting at the pharmacy in Market Street, Shipman moved into the surgery next door, Dame Janet said. "To use a colloquial expression, he chatted her up," she said. "[Mrs Brant] did not fulfil her professional obligation in questioning Shipman. My criticism is mitigated because I have no doubt Shipman had deliberately set out to win her confidence and to deceive her."

The situation was exacerbated by the presence of an inexperienced Greater Manchester Police detective constable, Patrick Kelly, who was three months into a part-time role checking controlled drugs registers when he visited Mrs Brant's premises, the report found. Det Con Kelly's inadequate training, which amounted to a few weeks shadowing his predecessor, contributed to his failure to spot Shipman's activities, the report said. Had either Mrs Brant or Det Con Kelly alerted the authorities, an investigation would have revealed that Shipman had a conviction from the 1970s for hoarding pethidine to feed his own addiction, said Dame Janet.

Instead, between 1992 and 1998 Shipman illicitly obtained more than 24,000mg of diamorphine and killed at least 143 patients. On one occasion, in 1996, he managed to acquire "an enormous" 12,000mg of the drug in one go - enough to kill 360 people.

The report, the fourth to be issued by Dame Janet and her inquiry team, observed that the controlled drugs regime, unchanged since 1973, remains open to abuses by doctors and nurses who prescribe drugs for themselves, friends and family.

The report called for the establishment of a drugs inspectorate to monitor and audit the prescription and handling of controlled drugs.